Monday, December 13, 2010

The Buzz on Peas and Bananas: Outside With Lil Boo.

For the lawyer's personal pleasure:  I received a copy of this book for review and there was no other compensation for this review.

The first book of the Peas and Bananas series. Peas and Bananas Outside with Lil Boo is an illustrated children’s book based on the creative events experienced through the eyes of Lil Boo. The events in the first story of a series are based on exploring an array of outdoor adventures from the eyes of a toddler. Follow Lil Boo and his imaginary friend Onote from the letters A to Z in a fascinating rhyming adventure outside.

The wonderful things you see from your room.
It's like riding on a broom!
So many wonderful things to do.
Let's go outside and see the view.

A cactus is awfully prickly.
Even so, a touch is fickly-tickly.
Have you ever seen a prickly, fickly, tickly cactus?
Lil Boo has, and its name is Magnus.

Cactus to dirt - without a squirt!
My take?
Truthfully, I was disappointed.  I have a pretty extensive collection of children's books, much of it collected before I even had kids of my own.  Therefore, when I was contacted by the author regarding a potential review of Peas and Bananas, I jumped on it.  The chance to review a book not mass marketed was very appealing to me - the thought of discovering something new.  But, sadly, I was not really taken with this book.

Interestingly, I loved, loved the illustrations - they were adorable and some of the renderings of the animals were simply beautiful (the owl was my favorite!)  However, I was confused with where the story was going and some of the wording/poetry had a rhythm that was hard for me to read out loud.  I understand the need to make up words to make things "work" and that children's literature grants a wide girth in that respect (hello, Dr. Seuss?!)  But this was a little much for me. 

Of course, like many parents there are books that WE love and then there are books that we suffer through to please our children. Sadly, I knew the review for Peas and Bananas was sunk when my kids did not stick around for the entire reading.

In fairness, I included two excerpts to give you a chance to see for yourself if this would be the type of book for you.  Obviously, I cannot purport to be the "end all/be all" when it comes to reviewing children's literature!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Buzz on Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs in the Snow

For the lawyer's personal pleasure: I was given this DVD for FREE to review and you can bet your sweet bippy, I will be keeping it at the end of my review period.

The Jim Henson Company/PBS series Dinosaur Train is a fun, educational program that capitalizes on young children's love of dinosaurs and trains, as well as their insatiable curiosity about the world around them. The four young dinosaurs of the Pteranodon family--one of whom is actually a Tyrannosaurus rex--love to explore the world via a prehistoric-time-traveling dinosaur train. From seeing snow at the North Pole for the first time, to unearthing million-year-old fossils, pondering whether huge trees grow from tiny seeds, tracking down a famous dinosaur singer, or seeking out the perfect big red flower for their mom, Don, Tiny, Shiny, and Buddy can always be counted on to ask important questions and seek the answers scientifically. Lucky for them, their parents and the Troodon train conductor are always more than willing to help them find the answers. The series features bright, animated dinosaurs and country-meets-rock songs that are immensely appealing to kids ages 3 to 6. But the best thing about the show is that it teaches kids some of the basics of scientific inquiry and process, like good observation skills and how to compare and contrast what they see; there's also some general information about the different types of dinosaurs. Interestingly, the DVD does not contain any of the live-action segments with paleontologist Dr. Scott Sampson that are usually shown between episodes on the televised program. Bonus DVD-ROM features include an interactive game, coloring pages, a dinosaur reference guide, and information for parents about the program and its characters. 

My Take? 
My kids really enjoyed this DVD and have already watched it more times than I'd care to admit.  Ahem.  Quite frankly,  it was not really a shock, since they love, love Dinosaur Train.  I asked my son which was his favorite episode from this DVD and he said that he liked the King Cryolophosaurus.  While I am sure the Elvis impersonation was lost upon him, I got a chuckle out of it as well.

While I would not want to own the entire library of Dinosaur Train, it is really nice to have this "special" one since it includes several holidays on it (including Mother's Day, Winter's Solstice and Halloween.)  A few months back, I won a giveaway for Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs Under the Sea and while I don't have to write a review of it, I would like to go ahead and mention it here as well.  The Under the Sea DVD totally rocked!  It is really difficult to find many videos or even books that include the swimming reptiles, so that DVD really stands out as another one worth owning. 

Also, can I confess to totally grooving during the theme song?  Am I the only one?

The Buzz on The Sound of Music, Blu-Ray Release

For the lawyer's personal pleasure: I received this copy of the Sound of Music for free.  For review. For mine to keep.  Other than the review copy of the movie, there was no compensation for this post.


Disc 1 Blu-ray:
  • Feature Film Remastered in 1080p Hi-Def with 7.1 DTS-HD Sound

  • Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration — All-New Immersive Viewing Experience with Behind-the-Scenes Images, On-Screen Lyrics, Trivia Track and Location Quiz

  • Music Machine Sing-Along

  • Audio Commentaries with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Director Robert Wise

  • BD-LIVE: Live Lookup™ Powered by IMDb®

    Disc 2 Blu-ray:
  • Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Music — All-New Interactive “Backlot Tour” with In-Depth Featurettes on the Songs, the Stage Show & Movie, the Film and Sound Restoration and the Real-Life von Trapp Family

  • A City of Song — Virtual Map of Filming Locations in Salzburg, Austria

  • Vintage Rodgers & Hammerstein and The Sound of Music Programs

  • Screen Tests, Rare Treasures, Interviews, Photo Galleries & More!

  • Disc 3 DVD:
  • Feature Film In Standard Definition

  • Newly Remastered Picture and Sound

  • Optional Sing-Along Track

  • Music Machine Sing-Along

  • The Sound of Music Tour – A Living Story

  • My Take?
    Oh hubba hubba.  I have long been a rabid Sound of Music fan.  It was my first LP ever purchased, then later my first CD purchased, then my first DVD purchased.  I could not help but grin that it is now my first Blu-ray.  And holy cow, this version is packed with new features and behind-the-scenes vignettes. I cannot wait to have both of my sisters over for a viewing!

    If you have a Sound of Music fan on your shopping list this Christmas, this would make an excellent, thoughtful gift.  I particularly like that it includes both the Blu-ray and DVD discs in one convenient package!

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    The Buzz on Animal Mastermind Towers

    For the lawyer's personal pleasure: I was given this game by Pressman Toy for FREE to review and you can bet your sweet bippy, I will be keeping this game at the end of my review period.

    And the winner......... was Hunter's Prize!!

    At BlogHer this year, I meandered through the Expo Center twice, hesitantly. My heart just was not into it this year, but I did want to at least see it. However,  I came across the Pressman Toy Corporation and was more than happy to talk to them - games are a pretty serious business in my family and I have confessed to having devoted a linen closet to my collection of them. (I also recognized Pressman as the makers of the Let's Go Fishing game, for which I have actually paid my very own real dollars.  A game from which we have gotten HOURS of entertainment because Team Chaos plays with the fish separately as well - the little fish make great bait for their angler fish and sharks, apparently. And yes, I just reviewed something for free, something that I paid for because as I have already admitted, I don't really get this reviewing thing.  Obviously.)

    Whoa.  Tangent much?

    So!  Pressman!  They had a couple of games that we could actually play in the booth - Mastermind (ages 8 and up) and Animal Mastermind Towers (ages 6 and up).

    I was sent the Animal Mastermind Towers for review.

    Official Description:

    Like classic MASTERMIND, the new Animal Towers version is a game of logic, problem solving and fun that challenges players to figure out their opponent's code in as few turns as possible.  To play, children stack their animal tiles in a special tower.  Players take alternate turns trying to guess the order of the animals in the other player’s tower by asking questions such as, “Is your giraffe below your pig?”  This new vertical children’s edition of MASTERMIND teaches important skills in three levels of gameplay, entertaining children as their matching and logical thinking skills progress. 
    Animal MASTERMIND Towers is the first in a series of MASTERMIND games in the new vertical format.  Upcoming editions will feature licensed children’s entertainment properties such as Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants™, Disney Fairies™, Disney®, and kids’ favorite Looney Tunes™ characters.

    My kids are a wee obsessed with animals in general and I thought that my nearly 5 year old son would dig the animal tiles, at the very least.  And I was correct.

    When the game arrived, we immediately set it up.  It was actually hard to control his excitement because as I suspected, he wanted to just fool around with the cards and tiles.  I let him have "his moment" of playing with the cards and tiles (and yes, there is a unique satisfaction with sliding the tiles in the tower - think of that cozy feeling when you drop checker in Connect Four.  Yeah, that feeling.)What I really liked about this game is that you can ease your kid into it - we played with 4 tiles at first, then added the 5th tile when he got the hang of it. He's probably ready for the 6th tile next time.  I also appreciated that as an adult, I needed to pay attention to the game (I have live-Tweeted Candyland games.  Not my proudest parenting moments.)  Is this a compelling game chock full of serious strategy?  No.  And it was not meant to be.  However, it is a pleasant way to spend some time with your kid.

    Christmas potential?  Pretty high - this is the sort of present that parents love and that makes the giver look thoughtful - a game! and it is educational! Furthermore, it is something the kid can open up right away and immediately begin fiddling with the tiles while the adults continue to suck down their eggnog. I do think this could be given to a 4 year old, but that would probably be the lowest age - my daughter is 3 and she is certainly not ready for this game yet.   I would say the maximum age is 8 or so, given the adult version is age 8 and up.

    I have a copy of the game to give away! Here is the deal:

    Comment on this post and tell me your favorite children's board game.  (If you answer Candyland, your entry will be disqualified.  Kidding.  Maybe.)  And please, please include an email - otherwise, I have no way to contact you if you do not already have a Blogger profile!  Your email will not used for any other purpose than contacting you if you win.  I solemnly swear on the eternal soul of my recently departed tarantula, Sofia (may peace be with her. Sniff.)

    Short version to winning?
    Comment and tell me your favorite children's board game.  Leave an email if you want me to contact you if you have won.  That is it!  Contest will be closed at Friday, September 24th at 12:00pm CDT.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    The Buzz on "Yum-Yum Bento Box" by Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa

    For the lawyer's personal pleasure: I was given this game by Quirk Publications for FREE to review and you can pry this book from my dead, cold hands.  Or, I could just leave it to you in my Last Will & Testament.  That might be easier. 

    Confession:  When I saw that I had a message from Quirk Publications, I got a little excited.  They are a publisher of amusing, unusual reads and I knew they were probably offering to send me something worth reviewing.  And when I realized they were offering to send me a copy of book solely about bento boxes, I knew I had hit some Review Blog Gold.

    When I received Yum-Yum Bento Box by Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa, I sat down to read it and finished it one sitting.  It was entertaining and some of the results were just too twee for words (the mushroom on the cover is "Capital A" Adorable.)  This book also left me with a strong hankering for an egg mold.  Ahem.

    Official Description:
    Divided into “Cuties and Critters,” “Fairy-Tale Friends,” and “Special Day Treats,” Yum-Yum Bento Box also includes additional recipes for mini snacks and save-it-for-later lunches, a glossary, and much more. Inside, readers will learn:

    ·         Which tools are needed to craft bento boxes and where to find them.
    ·         How to style and shape foods into charaben (or cute characters) using bento basics and advanced techniques.
    ·         How to make a Piggy Burger, plum flowers, miniature omelets, animals, elves, princesses, and more!

    Whether you’re an experienced bento maker eager to expand your repertoire or a bento newbie looking to spice up a ham and cheese sandwich in a fast five minutes, Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches has something for everyone. Why spend money on generic, unhealthy packaged lunches when you could be making unique and wholesome bentos?
    The upshot?  If you are a beginner to bentos, this is a good place to start - the book is crammed with all sorts of little photo insets which provide step-by-step instructions that demonstrate how to create many of the items displayed.  There are also "quick tips" offered throughout this book as well.

    We have the Laptop Lunchbox systems (which hey, I totally paid for with my own real dollars!).  However, in regard to lunches, my kids are still in their granola bars, nuts, cheese and applesauce moods.  In the meantime, I am keeping this book for future reference. 

    If you are currently doing lunchmeats, cheese and crackers for your kids' lunches, you can already get some mileage out of this book just on those ingredients alone.  For the more experienced bento enthusiast, there are some more complicated creations as well.

    This is a bright, colorful and perky publication with a sturdy construction.  Definitely, it is gift quality.

    And I still have plans to get that egg mold the next time I am at our Asian superstore. Yes, my kids love hard-boiled eggs.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    The Buzz on Near East.

    Over the weekend, I hosted a sponsored party by Near East food products!  In my hostess kit, amongst some random goodies, I was sent packages of Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil Couscous (also, I discovered that Near East is currently hosting a sweepstakes.  Enter here to win a variety of prizes including food and trips!)  I was pretty excited to see that they had sent my favorite of their couscous - the garlic and olive oil version is generic enough that you can serve it with quite a variety of main dishes.  As such, I knew I was in business and planned the rest of my menu around the couscous - chicken caponata and a shrimp with feta and tomatoes.

    Truthfully, I had to apply to be a hostess and I did consider my application carefully. Ultimately,  I decided to submit my application because it truly fit with my goals of cooking meals, from scratch, with fresh ingredients.  I decided to go with a general theme of Cooking With a Busy Schedule since I know folks are often busy rushing home from sports practices and work.  Near East did send some yummy looking recipes from Chef Peter Bowen  - quite simply, I did not get a chance to test drive these recipes and I wanted to make something with which I had a proven track record (although, hot damn - those lamp chops might be in my future.) Therefore, I chose a chicken caponata because it is an excellent Sunday night dish that would reheat really well later in the week.  And, I chose the shrimp dish because it cooks quickly - if you have rushed home, you can still find time to cook it. (Both recipes can be found in Simply Mediterranean Cooking - although it appears to be out of print?  Is it a violation for me to provide the recipes online? Is there a lawyer in the house?)

    Anyway -- the couscous??  Seriously, a no-brainer.  You bring the water to water to boil, throw in the couscous and accompanying spice packet, then take the pan off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.  That's it.  If you are as leery of packaged food as I am these days, you can also rest easy - the ingredient list was simply couscous, autolyzed yeast extract, olive oil, salt, natural flavor, garlic, onions, soy protein, parsley, spices, tocopherols for freshness, soy sauce ( I have had similarly good experiences using their Long Grain and Wild Rice in my chicken divan.)  In short, their  products can make a perfect side dish to serve with a main dish made by you

    Dammit.  Now, I am hungry.  Again.

    Gift bags!

    A party where social media was more than welcome.
    Many hostesses frown upon their guest live-tweeting.  Not me.

    Reason #2178943 why I am not a food photographer.
    Try as I might, I never could capture how yummy this couscous was.  The fresh parsley sprinkled on top took it over the edge of Delicious.

    Reason #2178944 why I am not a food photographer. 
    I swear this shrimp with feta and tomatoes was utterly delicious, despite the lack of photographic proof.

    This picky eater took the night off. 
    Even Arun liked it! I didn't bother including Anjali's snap because that girl will eat anything and cannot be trusted.

    A toast to Near East!
    A fabulous time was had by all.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    The Buzz on "Booze Cakes" by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone

    I have written extensively about my inability to bake.  I try and fail miserably,  then I try again.  Therefore, when I was offered the opportunity to review Booze Cakes by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone, I hesitated.  Who the hell am I to review a book about baking?  However.  While I may not be a baker, I do love reading cookbooks in general and seriously,  I just could not resist this book.  I mean, look at the cover.  Are you not craving cake right now?

    I suspected this book would be chock full of luscious food photography and I was correct.  Every page is accompanied by a lovely photograph and several of the recipes feature "how-to" photographs to help you with preparation.  The book has four main sections (Classic Booze Cakes, Cocktail Cakes, Cake Shots, and Cakes with a Twist)  but I found the supplemental sections to be helpful as well.  There are recipes for homemade liqueurs and mixers (i.e. limoncello, sour cherries) and there are directions for toppings, frostings and fancy garnishes ( i.e. candied items such as cherries, flowers; flavored sugars such as lavender, herbal; specialty decorations such as marzipan carrots, meringues).

    The recipes that appealed to me the most were the recipes for the English Trifle (drizzled with brandy), the Tres Leches cake (involving cacha├ža, a Brazilian distilled spirit) and the Chocolate Lava Cake (using port wine!)  In fact, including variations, there are 108 cake recipes and 32 cake shot recipes!   This book will not become boring anytime soon.

    If there is a baker in your life, this would make such a thoughtful gift and I do believe an inventive baker would have fun with this book, its variations and the supplemental sections that can be used for other recipes.  Besides, if you present this as a gift, perhaps they might return the favor by leaving a cake on your doorstep?  At least, that is what I am hoping for as I pass this beautiful book to my baking friend Caroline! 

    I wish I could have tried at least one recipe before posting this review - I promise to update this post with my friend's thoughts as she tries her hand at baking from this (I am curious what she will think of the Carrot Cake recipe, in particular, since that is one of her favorite cakes.)